If you saw my post the other day about Jerry Coyne’s review of the recent books by Ken Miller and Karl Giberson, then you might also be interested to know that Miller and Giberson have now replied. Click here for Miller’s reply, and click here for Giberson’s.
Let’s look at Giberson, first:
Empirical science does indeed trump revealed truth about the world as Galileo and Darwin showed only too clearly. But empirical science also trumps other empirical science. Einstein’s dethronement of Newton was not the wholesale undermining of the scientific enterprise, even though it showed that science was clearly in error. It was, rather, a glorious and appropriately celebrated advance for science, albeit one not understood by most people. Why is this different than modern theology’s near universal rejection of the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament, so eloquently skewered by Dawkins? How is it that “science” is allowed to toss its historical baggage overboard when its best informed leaders decide to do so, even though the ideas continue to circulate on main street, but religion must forever be defined by the ancient baggage carried by its least informed?
Because that ancient baggage carried by its least informed is constantly reasserting itself in the form of political pressure in directions that would be harmful to the country, while the theologians don’t seem to have much influence outside the academy. Because that ancient baggage represents the dominant beliefs of those who identify as religious believers. Because religious revelation is supposed to be a source of truth that is timeless and eternal, and not something that gets revised every time scientists get an idea about something. Because science overthrows its baggage by finding new evidence and formulating better theories that prove themselves in the field and the lab, while theology, let us be blunt, mostly makes it up as it goes along.
That’s how it’s different.
Giberson goes on to write:
I think we can all agree though that, wherever we stand, there is a great need for a discussion of how America’s conversation on origins should proceed. We need to wake up to the reality that current strategies have been an abysmal failure and ask some tough questions about why that is. There is a widespread fear on America’s main streets that evolution is destroying a cherished belief in God. As a consequence, anti-evolution has assumed the proportions of a military-industrial complex but the battle is a proxy war, aimed not at evolution, but at materialism. I wonder what would happen if, in the name of pluralism and diplomacy, we could all agree that it was OK for people to believe that evolution was a part of God’s plan. I suspect that cultural changes would be inaugurated that would eventually make both Eugenie Scott and Ken Ham irrelevant.
And I wonder what would happen if we could turn sand into ice cream and give a cone to every child in the Middle East. I suspect the resulting cultural changes would solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Yes, by all means let us adress Giberson’s question. Americans see evolution as a threat to cherished religious beliefs because it is a threat to cherished religious beliefs. It is a threat regardless of whether people like Dawkins or Coyne are around to call attention to the fact. It’s not a problem of strategy and it’s not a problem of people being misinformed about the latest pronouncements from professional theologians. People aren’t waiting for scientific authority figures to tell them condescendingly that it is OK to believe in both God and evolution. They are fully capable of seeing for themselves the many conflicts between evolution and traditional Christianity. If you are constrained only by your imagination, and if your only standard for measuring your religious beliefs is that they be logically possible, then you can get around the challenge posed by evolution. But the ones seeing conflict are not the ones being unreasonable.
Let us see what Miller has to say:
As I pointed out in Only a Theory, evolution did indeed produce the grand and beautiful fabric of life that covers our planet, including our own species. Therefore, we are not a “mistake” of nature, but a full-fledged product of the natural world. If God is the creator of that world, including the laws of chemistry and physics and even the unpredictable events of the quantum universe, then it would be perfectly reasonable for a religious person to see our emergence, through the process of evolution, as part of God’s plan for that universe.
Perhaps, but a person inclined to go this route should also ask what can be inferred about God’s plan from the fact that he does his creating through billions of years of sadistic bloodsport. An all-powerful, all-loving God is not the first thing that comes to mind.
He’s right on one score, obviously. That is that certain religious claims, including the age of the earth, a global worldwide flood, and the simultaneous creation of all living things are empirical in nature. As such, they can be tested scientifically, and these particular claims are clearly false. Claims of demonstrative miracles in the past, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection cannot be tested empirically, because there are no data from which to work. On such claims, science has nothing to say one way or the other. Coyne’s complaint on such things, paradoxically, is that they must not have happened because there is no scientific explanation for them.
Actually, Coyne’s complaint was the following:
Like Giberson, Miller rejects a literal interpretation of the Bible. After discussing the fossil record, he contends that “a literal reading of the Genesis story is simply not scientifically valid,” concluding that “theology does not and cannot pretend to be scientific, but it can require of itself that it be consistent with science and conversant with it.” But this leads to a conundrum. Why reject the story of creation and Noah’s Ark because we know that animals evolved, but nevertheless accept the reality of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, which are equally at odds with science? After all, biological research suggests the impossibility of human females reproducing asexually, or of anyone reawakening three days after death. Clearly Miller and Giberson, along with many Americans, have some theological views that are not “consistent with science.”
Coyne’s major complaint, as I see it, has to do with the reasons for accepting certain religious dogmas. Miller’s contention that we have no data for assessing whether a miracle happened thousands of years ago plays right into Coyne’s hands. Why does Miller think the Bible is reliable when it talks about Jesus, but does not think it is reliable when it talks about creation? Science frowns in both cases. Yes, of course, you can always argue that maybe in one special case thousands of years ago one particular dead body behaved in ways that no dead body before or since has ever behaved, but Coyne is not wrong to see such a kludge as a violation of what science tells us about the world.
I don’t believe that either Miller or Giberson have responded effectively to Coyne’s arguments, but go read them for yourself and let me know what you think.